Festival Fatigue

eKapa launches in a year of numerous similarly-styled mass spectacles. By Kim Gurney

Cape Town’s September eKapa art “manifestation” comes amid flourishing biennials and triennials worldwide. In January, a commission was appointed to assess the creation and organisation of the inaugural Trienal de Luanda, which will run from March to May under the auspices of Fernando Alvim and Simon Njami. It will be smartly followed by Yacouba Konaté’s Dakar Biennale in May.

These African events ride the crest of a 20-year wave that began back in the 1980s. In 1980 there were six global biennale, by 2005 there were an estimated 49. Athens is one city entering this territory for the first time this year; repeat hosts for 2006 include Berlin, Havana, Tijuana, Romania, Busan, Sydney, Tokamachi, Singapore, Shanghai, Liverpool, Christchurch, Sao Paulo, Seville, Taipei and Brisbane.

Ruth Sacks, Cape Town co-ordinator of the Trienal de Luanda, wrote in artthrob.co.za’s January edition that the Angolan event is not about tourism. Commenting on activities building up to the main event, she said: “It does not even appear to be about art. Of all the activities planned for the exposition, the organisers foresee only 10 per cent of the displays safely fitting into the category of fine art. This preliminary event served to present the overall project as a large, ongoing conceptual piece …”

But critics like AEA Consulting’s Joe Hill have long warned that ‘me-too!’ cultural offerings are crowding the market. In a paper on festival mania (presented in 2001) he said that contract-curated contemporary art festivals risked repetition, faddishness, and, for better or worse, only a token relationship to their locale — Johannesburg Biennale (b. 1995, d. 1998) being a salutary lesson. He wrote: “The Venices, Spoletos, Avignons and Edinburghs of the world are secure. But should the festival build-out of the past two decades continue, we will likely see more losers along the way.”